I should have known it would, of course. Ever since I can remember, I've had a somewhat troubled relationship with my homeland.For as long as I remember I've regarded Finland as a place to leave, not live. And each time I've left, it has always been painful and odd to return, as though entering a dream, or a memory resurfacing a little different from before. Now, once again a visitor in my own land, I can't help but to feel even more disconnected from it.
I sometimes wonder if Americans can relate to this feeling at all, being seemingly so able to callously up-and-leave the places they grew up in and travel across the continent for a job, an education, or simply on a whim. Odd as it may seem, coming from an immigrant, I have always found this ability nothing short of amazing and the longer I live here the more I continue to marvel at it. At the same time, the great, continuous migration of Americans is one of the things that makes me feel at home here. We're all relative newcomers to wherever we are in this great nation. It is just the seeming lack of nostalgia, a mix of longing and malice toward the place one comes from.
For instance, I love Finland for reasons too many to list here (though some of them will be the subject of an upcoming post), not the least of them being family, friends and memories, but for as long as I lived there I was constantly looking for something else, a new way of living, a way out. This trip made it very clear to me that I absolutely no longer belong there, if I ever did.
It is the home away from home now. And I received a very warm welcome indeed.
Mom had made special arrangements to be at the airport with my friend Kristiina, who had made even more special arrangements. Who doesn't want to be welcomed by a native maiden in her national costume?
Kristiina happened to have her fall break from school right as I arrived and so she had time to entertain my jet-lagged ass with lots of walking and tea. We visited an exhibition (obviously aimed at folks slightly younger than us) about the Moomin and had coffee at one of our favorite joints, a wee cabin by the sea, with eccentric decor and a policy wherein they pay you for refills.
If visiting Finland can be a mixed blessing, a visit to my hometown is ever more ambiguous. Fifteen years ago, when I last lived here, I remember feeling every day as though I had been dropped from the sky, completely separate from the prosaic small town existence I saw unfold around me.
This is not the house I grew up in. It was far more prosaic itself; a three-storey brick mistake from the 80s. Still, these seemingly normal surroundings did nothing but emphasize how weird we ourselves were. My mother was a bohemian in an era when it was no longer the norm, nor yet a norm. It was simply odd and this oddness reflected on my formative years tremendously.
I spent most of my time reading, dressing up in costumes and wondering the woods, harbors and wastelands. Suffice to say I did not have single friend from kindergarten 'till 6th grade. At least not one willing to be seen in public with me.
And though once in teenage-hood, weirdness became valuable currency, thrifted clothes the height of fashion and wit a bargaining tool beyond being good at school (Thank you Tim Burton and Nirvana!), these years of being the "odd one out" definitely shaped my feelings about this town.
That's not to say I didn't have a happy childhood. Though I didn't. I had an absolutely magical one. My mother, wise woman, an artist, made sure of that. It was one filled with stories (She started reading The Lord Of The Rings to me when I was four years-old.), adventure (Prague, Paris, the island of Jalta, Stockholm by steamship, all over Finland by train and hitch hiking every summer and even my first trip abroad without her, to Tunisia, all before the age of 12!) and nothing dull or ordinary ever (Just check out her home. She's a set and costume designer by trade.).
I think that's why we moved to this "awful little town" as I used to think of it. So that my grandma and auntie could help.
My mother did not make the easiest of choices, but she made a good life for me the best she could, and I'd like to think that I've, at least subconsciously honored them with some of my own. I too, have chosen a lifestyle out of the mainstream, a simpler, more fulfilling (or so I'd like to think) way of life. Although at least I have indoor plumbing, a husband, and am not the sole carer for a small, obstreperous child. (The house above is in the same block and closely resembles the 120-year-old wood-heated, plumbing-free house my mother and I lived in my early years, and who's tearing down by the city authorities she took me to protest at the tender age of six.) I can't even fathom how she managed it all, the hauling of wood, the warming of water, the small child, the day job, the political activism, but like millions upon millions of women before her, she did and I'm very proud to be her daughter.
Ours is, after all, a city known for formidable women. And it's not really such a terrible town. At least in the rosy vision of nostalgia and hindsight, I wouldn't really change a thing. Who would?
So there's a bit of personal history, that, and the fact that my beloved auntie (who's at least as big a reader as I am) has a 100-year-old summer villa on one of these islands, so close to the city by foot bridge that it takes ten minutes to get to the center of town. Amazing right? I love how old everything is back home. Just one of the many things I love about Finland. I promise a lighter tone and many move in the next post. And in that spirit: I give you A Gathering of Bears
If you listen closely, you can almost hear them, right? Ssshhh...